'All we do is work' - NHS staff turn to therapy over Covid trauma

Health workers wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) in intensive care. In non-intensive wards, staff are only...

Health workers wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) in intensive care. In non-intensive wards, staff are only given surgical masks to wear. - Credit: PA

Needle phobias, "moral injuries" and the thought of spreading Covid to loved ones are all fears blighting frontline workers as dozens make use of a new mental health helpline.

The new service, officially launched by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) on January 25, has received nearly 50 calls in a month from traumatised health and care staff needing to talk.

According to Diane Palmer, the lead nurse responsible for managing the helpline, 17 of those are now in active therapy.

Diane Palmer, who has been nominated for an RCNi Award. Picture: DAVID GEE

Diane Palmer is a lead nurse at NSFT, and is responsible for overseeing trauma and heading up this new Covid-19 support service. She has 28 years of experience in the social care and health sectors - Credit: © David Gee

She said when a healthcare worker calls the helpline they have an hour long conversation with Suffolk Mind, and can be referred to NSFT if it is thought they could benefit from counselling or therapy. There's also face-to-face support available.

Detailing the trauma some staff are facing, Ms Palmer said: "Most people are anxious about passing Covid onto their loved ones or patients. 

"They're feeling lonely and isolated, and that all they do is work.

"People also come to us about moral injuries they may have experienced - which is where someone has had to deviate from their moral code because of the situation they're in."

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She said other sources of stress were needle phobias and anxiety around having to be vaccinated.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has experienced a big increase in new patients during the c

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is working with Suffolk Mind to deliver the dedicated Covid support service for health and care staff - Credit: Archant

"Many healthcare workers are worried they'll be forced to get the vaccine when they don't want to, or are concerned about anti-vaxxer dialogue which might be present even within the hospital," she said.

"What we do is help people understand what the vaccine is and does, make sure their information is correct and work with them around needle phobias.

"We make it clear nobody will force them to have the vaccine."

One ICU nurse working in the region, who does not want to be named, said the hardest thing was dealing with the "constant presence" of death.

"A lot of the nurses are massively struggling," she said. "It's when you're looking after patients similar ages to yourself, or completely fit and healthy, and then they don't make it.

"Though we seem to be passing the peak it's still so exhausting.

"We spend 13 hours in PPE, and are expected to take on more than one patient at a time because so many people are off with breaks for mental health.

"It's hard not being able to relax or socialise at the end of the day. We just feel like all we ever do is work."